Achieving optimal weight requires maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical activity. PHOTO/COURTESY


Obesity cases on the rise globally

What you need to know:

  • Although Uganda's obesity prevalence is lower than the regional average of 20.8 percent for women and 9.2 percent for men, it is one of the fastest growing health problems worldwide. 

March 4 was World Obesity Day and according to several reports, obesity is on the rise globally. The efforts to address it are challenging due to misconceptions about obesity and the role it plays in a person’s health.

According to the Global nutrition Report of 2022, the prevalence of overweight children under five years of age is 2.9 percent and Uganda is 'on course' to prevent the figure from increasing.

Uganda has shown limited progress towards achieving the diet-related non-communicable disease (NCD) targets. About 10.4 per cent of adult (aged 18 years and over) women and 2.3 per cent of adult men are living with obesity in Uganda. Although Uganda's obesity prevalence is lower than the regional average of 20.8 percent for women and 9.2 percent for men, it is one of the fastest growing health problems in Uganda and across the world and its rising prevalence is placing additional strain on medical resources. 

The World Obesity Federation's 2023 atlas predicts that 51 percent of the world or more than four billion people will be obese or overweight by 2035. Rates of obesity are rising particularly quickly among children and in lower-income countries, the report found.

How to tell one is overweight

According to Dr Franklin Wasswa, a general practitioner, the most efficient way to determine if someone is overweight or obese is by calculating their Body Mass Index (BMI). This is an estimate of body fat that compares a person’s weight to their height.

If your BMI is less than 18.5, you are underweight. If it is between 18.5 but less than 25, it falls within the healthy weight range. If your BMI is between 25.0 and 30, it falls within the overweight range. If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, then you are obese.

“For children aged two years and older and for teens, BMI uses weight and height, but also considers sex and age. Instead of using a specific number such as the BMI charts for adults, the BMI for children and teens is listed as a percent. This percentage indicates a child’s BMI in relation to the BMIs of other children of the same sex and age,” he says.

Obesity happens over time by consuming more calories than the body burns. The body stores up the extra calories as fat. It affects both children and adults and there are many factors that can contribute to excess weight gain. These include eating patterns, physical activity levels, and sleep routines. Social determinants of health, genetics, and taking certain medications can also increase your risk of becoming obese.

“While the genetic predisposition has for a long time been blamed for obesity, multiple changes in our environment have occurred that promote weight gain among people. People now spend more time sitting in cars or working while seated, eating highly processed foods which contribute to rising obesity rates,” Dr Wasswa says.

Although obesity is typically related to poor diet and lack of exercise, it can also be triggered by medical issues, medications, and injuries.  Some medical conditions can lead to weight gain by slowing your metabolism, increasing your appetite, or reducing your mobility. They may include insulin resistance, hypothyroidism, arthritis, menopause and Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Also, some medications such as Anticonvulsants, Antidepressants, antihistamines and corticosteroids can also increase your risk of catching obesity. 

Psychological factors such as stress, boredom, sadness, or anger can also contribute to obesity because some people turn to food in response to such emotions and are sometimes diagnosed with binge eating disorder (BED).

Optimal weight
According to Ivan Philip Baguma, a nutritionist at Nella Organics, optimal weight, sometimes called a healthy weight, is determined by the amount of body fat a person has in comparison to their height and gender. Optimal weight is essential for good health and can help prevent or reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

“To determine your optimal weight, you will need to calculate your BMI, which is an estimate of body fat based on both height and weight. It is calculated by dividing weight (in kilograms) by height squared (in meters). A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered an optimal weight, while anything outside this range is deemed unhealthy. Adults aged 20 and older are advised to aim for a BMI of 22 to 23,” he says. 

Achieving optimal weight requires maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Eating foods that are high in fibre and low in saturated fats such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, will help promote good health. Incorporating physical activities such as jogging, swimming, and cycling into a regular routine can help maintain an optimal weight and stay active.

Baguma warns that, “Maintaining an optimal weight is also important in order to avoid the health risks associated with being overweight. Obesity increases the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Additionally, being overweight can cause joint and bone problems due to wear and tear on the body.”

Overall, optimal weight is important to maintaining good health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Calculating your BMI is a good way to determine your optimal weight and make sure that you are staying within the healthy range. Additionally, healthy eating and regular physical activity is essential for maintaining your optimal weight.

“It is important to remember that healthy weight does not necessarily mean a person has to be “skinny” or have a perfect body; there are many different types of body shapes and sizes, so the focus should be on achieving a weight that minimizes your risk for chronic health problems,” Baguma advises.

It is important that you talk to your dietitian or nutritionist if you have any questions or concerns about your optimal weight. On a proven to work weight loss programme, you can even lose up-to 25kg in 90 days, and half your body weight in a year. It is easier to succeed when you have professional guidance and support, which is specifically tailored for you. Special packages to promote weight loss including meals can be expertly planned and provided. 

Obesity predisposes people to a kind of insulin resistance which stirs up health concerns such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, kidney disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Overweight and obesity contributes to soft tissue damage and osteoarthritis; a progressive wear- and-tear disease of the joints. The impact of this damage is especially felt in the hip and knee joints because every extra kilo exerts pressure on the knees and hip joints.

“Chronic obesity and unmanaged weight can also lead to type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and breathing problems, anxiety, depression and some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon). These conditions cause premature death and substantial disability causing immobility,”Baguma says.

Childhood obesity: We can reverse the trend

It is important to note that the risk of health problems starts when someone is only very slightly overweight. The likelihood of these problems increase as one gains more weight. The complications cause long-term suffering for individuals and the entire family because of the costs involved in the treatment, the time wasted in caring for the sick person who may become less productive with time. 

Generally, obesity is a consequence of unhealthy lifestyles. Preventing it depends on one’s ability to make positive healthy choices in their daily lives.

Baguma advises people to choose healthier foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and protein sources and beverages. 

“Limit the intake of unhealthy foods such as refined grains and artificial sugars, red meat, processed meat) and beverages (carbonated drinks,” he advises.

Dr Franklin Wasswa, a general physician, also recommends that you create a routine for physical activity with help from a physiotherapist.